Bubby’s Little Prince

brian and judyJust when I thought I’d escaped having to play with dolls, my brother was born. I was six years old and up until that point had been an only child. My mother went back to work soon after he was born. My Grandma Lil’ was put in charge of us.  She had raised  four kids of her own as well as myself, so when Brian was born she was dead tired of taking car of  kids.

When he learned to walk, Brian spent a lot of time in the bathtub at my Grandma’s house. It was a good way to keep him from running away, I suppose. But my Grandma loved him the most and treated him like a Jewish Prince. A Jewish Prince who sat perfectly in a bathtub, I guess. He was clean, but became pretty anti-social with other kids until later on.

We moved to Bayside in 1952.  Brian started to branch out a bit. His best friend was Peter. Peter had a brain injury that limited his mobility, but he could throw a ball with my brother pretty well. Brian had a lot of patience and liked Peter.

Many times the neighborhood kids would make fun of Peter. My brother always stood up for him, and of course, I stood up for my brother. And then Diane Russo stood up for me. Diane Russo was 14 years old and built like a Mac truck. She had muscles, a mustache and for whatever reasons liked me. Definitely better than her NOT liking me! You never wanted to cross Diane Russo.

When he was 10, my brother got to go to camp that summer. It was the camp I went to, but this time I was 16 and was a counselor. My mother wanted me to keep an eye on Brian, which I resented, but it ended up being lucky I was there.

One of the camp counselors had a crush on me. His name was Gary. Gary was tall dark and not so handsome. He was OK, but I went for much smarter guys. One day he wanted to impress me, so he asked my brother to go out in a canoe. Brian said yes and out they went. Before long, Brian managed to capsize the boat and swim back to shore.

Later on I asked Brian what happened out there? He said, “I knew that guy just asked me to go out because he wants a date with you! He doesn’t care about spending time with me. What a Jerk!” He was right, but stupid for flipping over a canoe. I was one of the lifeguards, of course, and the last thing I needed was a drowned brother. I knew I’d get blamed.

Brian got more competitive as he got older. Later, he innocently agreed to play chess with my first husband, Elliot.  Elliot was very competitive and thought he knew it all, until he met his match. They played about a half hour before  it became clear my brother was winning and Elliott had a fit! He stood up, flipped the board in the air and insisted we leave immediately for a date. It was a horrible date, but I loved riding in his father’s white Thunderbird.

Today, Brian is my best friend. Well I have a few best friends, but he’s the one who will always be there for me, and I will be there for him. As long as he remembers I’m the oldest and stays out of canoes.






White and Jewish at Sleepaway Camp

1935-Hive-Evening-CircleSleep away camp was the very first time I was away from my parents. I was 7 years old the first time I went. The kids from my neighborhood piled onto buses that lined up in front of the Henry Street Settlement. I sat by a window and waved goodbye to my mother and we pulled away.

Looking around I realized I didn’t know many of the kids. For some reason, the kids I did know suddenly pretended they didn’t know me or each other.  There was a sense of paranoia that permeated the bus. I suddenly became aware that I was dressed a bit nicer than the other kids, and so did they.  Suddenly what each of us looked like was going to determine our fate over the course of the two weeks. It was a mixed camp, in that there were all sorts of children there. White, black, pink, yellow- whatever. They were from the Lower East Side and they immediately formed gangs or little groups or tribes or whatever. I was very intimidated so quickly bonded with the few white Jewish kids at the camp and hoped for the best.

One day towards the end of camp we were out on the baseball field getting ready to play. Laura Jones had it out for me that day. She walked over to me and pushed me on the shoulder. Without a pause I shoved her back.  I knew I couldn’t back down in any confrontation at this camp. I had to hold my own. I was my mothers daughter after all.

After a couple of more shoves a counselor broke us up, “Hey you two! Knock it off! We are here to play baseball.” Laura yelled, “Ill get you!” That night, just in case she meant it, I slept with a board as a weapon.

I never went back to that camp. The next summer I went to a much nicer camp, but I got lice. At least I didn’t have sleep with a board in my bed.


A Coat to Reach For

ny_subway1When taking piano lessons on 57th street, for some crazy reason my mother used to let me go there alone. Maybe she hoped I’d get lost. There were very few kids that traveled alone because NYC was a place where one had to watch ones purse, but apparently not ones children.  Even though the subway seats were a lovely wicker, they were beaten up a bit. The subways were starting to become a place for homeless people to beg. Its wasn’t safe, but my mother wasn’t worried about me. She raised me to be suspicious of people who approached me. I still am.

At the time, I was 11 or 12.  My lessons were at the Steinway Building on West 57th street. At that time Delancey Street was uptown to me and going all the way to to 57th street may as well have been traveling to the moon. I felt very adult and it was a relief to be treated that way and not like a baby.   But still it seemed a little strange to take the subway by myself. But I did.

The address was easy enough to find and I stepped into a very impressive lobby. On the wall was a huge glass encased sign with all of the names of the various people you could visit in the building.  I ran my finger down the sign alphabetically to find the name my mother wrote on a scrap of paper: ALLEN, BARTHOLEMEW- SUITE 1501.

I stepped off of the elevator at the 15th floor. I knocked on a big wooden door and Mr. Allen answered. He looked like Woodey Allen.  Maybe he was his father. He asked me to sit and wait while he finished up with another student.

I went to the closet to hang up my jacket. As I reached for a hangar my arm brushed against the most gorgeous grey coat.  The cashmere felt like “budda” on my skin. I had never seen or felt a coat like that on the Lower East Side. I knew this coat meant money and I liked it.  I realize looking back that this coat was a sign of the good things in life. My life was good, but cashmere was better, and I wanted more of it.

As far as I was concerned my day was complete. Touching that coat was enough of a reason to have traveled to 57th street and I could’ve gone home then and there, when suddenly I heard yelling from the next room.  It was Mr. Allen yelling at his student, “No! No! No! Practice, practice practice at HOME!”. The door flew open and a small girl, my age but shorter, quietly tip-toed out of the office ready to burst into tears. She walked to the coat closet. I thought, how could anyone with a coat like that be scared of a piano teacher? I had simply touched the magic cashmere coat and I knew from that moment on nothing could get me!

“Come in Judy. It’s nice to meet you.” Mr. Allen stepped aside and I walked proudly into my first piano lesson.